Las Vegas mass shooting puts guns at forefront of congressional race in Omaha’s District 2

October 8, 2017 GMT

The two Democrats running to be the party’s congressional nominee in the Omaha-based 2nd District both want to see stricter limits on guns.

Former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford and nonprofit executive Kara Eastman made statements in support of more gun control after the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 and injured hundreds.

Both said they would support measures to strengthen background check requirements and said they would like Congress to do better at consulting experts on firearms when drafting legislation.

Background checks have been a focus of gun control advocates’ efforts. Federal law requires that licensed dealers conduct background checks on potential gun buyers, but some purchases, such as those at gun shows, don’t require background checks.

Ashford and Eastman oppose bills that would make it easier to buy a silencer and that would make concealed carry permits applicable across state lines.

The incumbent in the seat, Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican, co-sponsored legislation to do both.

Proponents say the silencer bill is intended to protect hunters from hearing loss. The concealed-carry bill aims to protect gun owners from inadvertently getting in trouble when they carry their legal firearms across state lines.

Bacon also said he doesn’t support expanding the federal background check law. He said he would welcome “bipartisan dialogue on gun safety and criminal justice.”

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Bacon and some other House members have asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review the legality of bump stock devices, which the Vegas shooter apparently used to allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire continuously.

Bacon also noted in a statement and in a tweet Tuesday that Ashford said in a debate during the 2016 election: “I don’t think we should ban assault weapons.” Bacon said on Twitter that Ashford now says “the opposite.”

Ashford said his position hasn’t changed. He said he has always wanted to see the country ban the purchase of weapons that are “designed primarily for military purposes.” However, he said the decadelong assault weapons ban that began in 1994 was ineffective, and he wouldn’t want to enact the same legislation again.

That puts Ashford somewhat at odds with the state Democratic Party platform, which calls for “the adoption of a federal ban on assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and armor-piercing rounds.”

Ashford said he sees new limits on firearm purchases as politically impossible, and he wants to focus on solutions that could be enacted. So the former one-term congressman said he would want to focus on putting “bumps in the road” — maybe required training or even time at a gun range — before a person could buy the most deadly firearms.

Ashford said he wants Congress to create a bipartisan commission with input from law enforcement to determine which firearms would fit in that category.

Ashford also said it’s important to fund research into gun violence.

“I think it’s a pivotal time in our history,” he said. “You can’t just not do anything.”

Ashford has long been a proponent of gun control legislation. In the Nebraska Legislature he was the architect of a 1991 law that required a permit for handgun purchases in the state.

Fellow Democrat Eastman agrees — and she would take it one step further.

She said it should be possible to find safety regulations that everyone can agree on and that fit within the parameters of the U.S. Constitution.

But if needed, she said, the country should consider a constitutional amendment “to define what bearing arms means” — a process that would require agreement by supermajorities in Congress and among the states.

Eastman, too, said Congress needs to consider bringing more expert perspectives into the debate about gun control.

She said she would like to see an assault weapons ban, but she also wants to focus on more politically feasible measures, such as investing in mental health resources and preventing domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.

“There are responsible gun owners out there, and it is a constitutional right to own a gun,” she said. “How do we come together and say we do not condone these acts and we are going to take bold measures to prevent them?”

roseann.moring@owh.com, 402-444-1084